To Dance Like a Peacock | Chitra Gopalakrishnan

Visual Credit: Gitumoni Talukdar, Copyright of image belongs to Chitra Gopalakrishnan

Neelesh lies motionless in a dusty, dark brown ground hollow, in a sand-silt-clay combined earth bowl, his soft, spongy body muddied, bloodied. His extended metallic blue-green plumage with its sea-foam undertone, and its multitude of eyespots, is all askew, spun-out. And, a portion of his exposed, bulging, flesh fizzes with insects, the bug sounds blurring into a long, whirring noise. A white noise almost.

Beside him, that is half of him, bright, yellow, mustard flowers, with their pale green arrow-shaped leaves, and tall, slim stalks sway, even as they release little clouds of nitrate. Pungent whiffs that sting the nose, and the eyes.

Neelesh’s head, and legs are missing.

From over the hollow he lies in, and from the slits in the mustard stalks, you can still see the zigzagged portion of his savagely-cut, bulbous jugular, made light with the loss of head, and blood. As his underside. Made bereft of its support, with his understory completely gone. 

It is hard to believe at this moment that his neck, once rich with iridescent blue, swung like a snake in dalliance or in quest for food. Or just like that. Just because he felt like. Or that his even-toed gait, and agile mating dance was admired by everyone who chanced on it. 

It is the cool month of February in 2021, at our farm, in Mehrauli, on the outskirts of New Delhi. It is the time when the sun cannot decide whether to dim its light with shadow play behind clouds or shine with a light impishness so as to reflect a mere suggestion of heat. This unlike its avatar in summer where it brazenly flays the skin of the earth, and certainly of people, plants, and animals. 

It is also the time when the land is vibrant with water-air-earth scents, with whistling birds who cannot contain their joy, with scurrying squirrels and chameleons, as with buzzing insects. 

And, it is most certainly the time when our manicured greens are plump with unruly flowers, gaudy-red poppies, pink petunias, white lilies, mustard marigolds, mauve roses, yellow zinnias, and indigo shoe-flowers, all of who grow in wild abandon. 

Ironically, Neelesh, our peacock, loses his life when the earth around us, here at our farm, on the capital of the country, moves uncomplainingly to the rhythms of a diverse life, to the interplay with the world around it. When everything around is so full of promise. When everything is lush with the covenant of growing. 

For us, Neelesh’s death is a grand absurdity. 

Over the month of January, we see Neelesh, our favorite and regular peacock visitor, ail with what we believe to be some kind of pox in his left eye. He barely sees with it, yet he tries to keep this eye-slit parallel to the grass. This for a prey-eye vision in the world he feeds from. Be it berries, flower seeds or the wiggly mass of worms that squirm in the soil. Ants, millipedes, crickets, termites, centipedes, and flying locust.

Neelesh comes more often than ever that month, every day and evening, his extended plumage and all, to demand his share of grain from our bird feeder. 

“I believe he is asking to be fed rather than be allowed to seek his feed because of his condition,” my cook, Reba, asserts.

She is the one who has named this peacock Neelesh, which translates in Hindi as blue, and is the one who feeds him grain on demand, as assiduously as one would feed a brawling baby on demand. She makes small balls of mashed up rice, and leaves it lying if ever he wants “a change of taste”. And, the large cement water bowl that he drinks off is always full, “in case he is wary of bending too low, and is scared of being caught unawares by marauding monkeys or menacing cats,” she says.

By the end of January, Neelesh finds it hard to fly to and fro from his perch on the tall silver oak tree, one among the many that lines our boundary wall. So mostly during the day, he plinks and puckers around our greens, gathers himself together into a ball to rest in sunny patches, frightened by everything other than us, and in the evening, when he eventually decides to rest atop the tree, he emits cries. We believe his screeches to be hollers of alarm, conveying to us his fear of being eaten up by stealthy predators who use the night to subterfuge their intent, and his sleep to complete their kill. 

It was one of the many cats that slink around at night on the farm that got Neelesh. At least, we at the farm believe this to be so. We have our suspicions on a tom cat we have named Bagadbilla because he is wild, grumpy, and smelly.

In this month of March, we are still trying to deal with the aftershocks of our experience as we are struggling to pull peacock Neelesh’s story in. It is a fluid feeling. We still grieve for his smell, and fear of death before succumbing to its abyss. For his loss of dignity and privacy in death, that, maybe, we denied by becoming spectators to it. And, for our inability to respond effectively to his beseech for help, for our failure to save his life.

My ex-colleague from a green organisation I worked for, Shoma Arun, who rushes to comfort us, says this, to us, and to Reba in particular, “There is no world in which humanity exists apart from the natural world. It is clearer than ever that our fates are intertwined, that our world should be a circumambient one, one that sees and accommodates the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of living species. So take comfort in the fact that you have tried to cherish, and help a creature as much as you could, and as long as he lived. That you have played a role in nature’s orchestra, not that of an imperious conductor who believes he can control fates or nature’s design, but that of a contributor.”

“Why does the earth pull in a creature’s story thus? Why are we all just mud-marrowed bones in the end? Why do all our stories, human, plant or animal, end in dust-covered death?” asks an insistent, tear-stained, sixteen-year-old, Kunal, our gardener Nandlal’s son, who draws and writes verses in his spare time.

He does not understand Shoma’s words. Or believes that his question is different. I know he also asks because he has just recently lost his grandmother. His mother says to me that morning, “His tears still feel as if they come all the way from his toes.” 

None of us have answers for him. 

What we do know is that Neelesh’s brutal, abrupt death makes us confront ours. It makes us face up to the fact that death is part of our living.  It makes us confront the truth that death, and its aftermath, is frightening. And, that the idea of the oblivion at death being like nonexistence before birth is too scary to think of. To understand.

Days later, our psychologist friend, Leela Singh, brings some instinctive wisdom with her. “While we live in the present, with our brains that shield us from our eventual death with crafty ingenuity, we ingrain ourselves in biology, one that helps us live. We shut down predictions of death, believing that it happens to others, not us. It is called the escape treadmill. Yet death is a leveller. It will happen to every one of us,” she says. 

“How does one handle this eventuality, the finality of death, especially if one has no belief in the afterlife? If there is no belief in being absorbed by God or a higher power, realm or consciousness? That at this point we lose the journey’s map altogether? This even as I am a Hindu living in India?” I wish to know.

“You need to cultivate the capacity, and responsiveness to this eventuality across your lifespan. In essence, having a good death is about how you live a good life,” she says reflectively. 

Is this our answer then?

That death will come no matter what. In any way that it will. Like the rain that will fall. Like the sun that will shine. Like the wind that will blow. And that what we make of death, and how we react to contact with it will depend on us. It can be terrible, satisfying or seemingly merciful. It can be what we choose it to be. Just as we can choose what we make of our life. 

Is it up to us then to decide on how to confront death? To still the fear of dying, as rigor mortis waits to creep in, and before the pronouncement, “Pupils fixed and dilated. No heart sounds. No breath sounds. No pulse” is made?

There is no denying that despite these arguments, and answers, the mystery, and fear of death remains. 

I would say, for me, personally, though I have realized that true sorrow is the loss of life, not the state of death or the act of dying. 

More importantly, I have come to the realization that there is time to understand the afterlife. Who knows, if I do understand it, and gain faith in it, my fears of death may just fall away? The earth, land, water, and sky may turn alive with possibilities. Of our energies returning in altered forms and states.



Chitra Gopalakrishnan uses her ardor for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism.
Author profile: www.chitragopalakrishnan.com

To Fly Away From Iowa Springs | Carson Schulte

Image: Adam Przeniewski

I remember being seven years old and still loving Iowa spring, believing it to be all cheap gingham and wild onions sprouting. But as I grew I learned that to be a child in promised Iowa spring is to feel sentimental and uneasy. We would return to patterns marking the nurturing rhythm of time familiar: full brush piles, vinca vines blooming, cicada choruses at sundown, lilac bushes spilling over. And with these easy April lullabies came those subliminal spring hints, trailing towards adolescence, hidden in the blossoming, the ripening. Spring pushed childhood forward; we all became wiser when the monarchs returned north. When the soil thawed from months of winter frost, I would kneel in my garden, rusted trowel in hand, knees muddening while I ripped through roots, sent worms wriggling. Trying to dig a hole deep enough where I could hide from spring and remain a child forever.

One day while I was digging I spotted through the soggy loam a flash of moonwhite, smooth and still. It was a perfect stone of life, a bird’s egg whole and glowing. The egg remained cupped in my care for over a week, placed in an old shoebox under the lightbulb of a table lamp. Every day I checked on my dear April lullaby, waiting for it to hatch, and I announced to everyone the news of my beautiful egg, my baby bird-to-be. When I told my elementary school teacher, she invited me to bring my treasure to share with the class. I knew my classmates would be so envious of the springtime life I carried, and I so packed my little egg to bring to school with me the next day.

I wish I had known how fragile those little stones of life tend to be. It seemed that all the resilience of my bird-to-be was spent fully on its fall from the nest. Certainly not enough left to survive a ziploc bag inside a child’s backpack. When I went to my cubby to get my egg, I slowly unearthed a sickly yellow mess. I held my ziploc high to examine the moonwhite shards, jagged and crumbled, yolk lumping thick in between. I shoved it away and went to the bathroom to cry. To mourn. I had killed my April lullaby, my cheap gingham and wild onions sprouting.

Seasons don’t slow for a shattered bird’s egg. Iowa spring kept passing through; each year the monarchs would return north, and I would cry at their beloved homecoming because I didn’t want to get any wiser. Yet my body grew too big to fit inside any dug up garden holes. I could not stop the blossoming, the ripening; springtime would come to welcome my first training bra, my first kiss. The uneasiness of Iowa spring paired cruelly with the sweet smells of chopped lilac in the kitchen vase, a vision of childhood sentiment. And in the thick of that tiptoe towards adolescence I would think back to my precious egg, imagining a world where it had hatched. I dreamt of my bird growing radiant and strong, big enough to carry me away, so that we may leave spring behind and fly forever towards Iowa winter, chasing those months of still and freeze where life remains unchanging.


Carson Schulte is a senior at Luther College studying social work and Spanish. She grew up in Iowa and recently moved to Denver to complete her social work practicum. On days off from her internship at a child residential treatment center, Carson enjoys knitting, baking, and snuggling with her cat. She is an emerging writer in the field of creative nonfiction, with work forthcoming in the Oneota Review. 

Preheat – Shoshana Lovett-Graff

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Photo: Isaac Quesada

When I was five years old, I said to my mother, I want to be a frittata when I grow up.

No. she said. No, no baby. You can’t be a frittata. Why not? I asked. I love frittatas. I love cracking eggs, I love shredded cheese, and I love the little green bits that you mix into the bowl. Why can’t I be a frittata? Because you’re a Jew, baby. Jews can’t go in the oven, not ever again. Not a toaster oven? No. Not an easy bake oven? No. You can never think about being a frittata, nor write about being a frittata. If you dream about being a frittata, you must wake up and make yourself have new dreams. As Jews, we don’t use the oven. We don’t think about the oven. We can’t look at the oven. The oven is locked in a box, buried underground, and guarded by a man who swallowed the keys nearly a century ago. Those keys are never coming out. My mother put her arm around me and said, Just remember baby. The oven is buried so deep, no one can touch it again. You’ll never become a frittata.

I forgot about wanting to become a frittata. I thought about lots of things I could become instead. I was afraid of the oven, and I did not go near one for many years.

One day, I sat in my office and read that a man in a uniform rammed his truck into a protester’s leg and broke it. Before I could read it again, it was gone, his internal bleeding replaced with clickbait articles, the ambulance ride overridden by ten facts about a topic I could not remember. Four other protestors hit by the truck. An ad for a jacket to cover myself. Pepper spray to their eyes. An op-ed with comments that burned. The man’s uniform said: I-C-E. The protestor’s sign said: Never Again Para Nadie.

I opened my mouth, perched on the ledge of something I wanted to say. Before I could speak, eggs began pouring out. The yolk, wet and warm, dribbled down my lips. I collected them in my lap, and sat, waiting. I wanted an opening to grow in my computer screen, a hot gap I could crawl into. It just had to be large enough that someone else could climb into my body, sit swaying in my office chair, and I could become a frittata.

With each egg from my lips, I thought about a book I saw at my boyfriend’s house called Eggs and Cheese. It showed all the ways you could make eggs and cheese. An omelette, a souffle, a quiche, or a frittata.

My boyfriend did not have a book called Protesters and Cars, which showed all the ways protesters and cars could interact. A protester could ride in a car to a protest, or convince a car to honk in support. You could also hit a protester with a car, stop, then pump the gas pedal and drive through a line of protesters sitting cross-legged on the ground. These are all recipes in a book that has not yet been written.

There is no recipe for a protest. Just like my grandmother said, It’s all guesswork to decide which spices get simmered into the dish midway through. I have never read instructions about who gets to lock eyes with a Rhode Island license plate drawing close and fast.

My computer screen finally cracked open, and I found my grandmother sitting there like a settled stack of dishes. She said, Look up, there you are. She said,

If you want to use the oven then by the grace of God, use it. She said,

Before the existence of ovens, someone baked on hot stones outside and before there were hot stones, there was the sun on your back. She said,

When I bake, I don’t think about Jews and eggs and whether you’re allowed to crack open the ground and dig up boxes with keys in men’s stomachs. She said,

It runs down the back of your neck and trickles down your spine into new generations, then it spreads and sprouts on untouched ground. She said,

Your grandfather only eats cold cereal with milk because he is afraid of the oven. She said,

Breakfast is just news left unopened. She said, If you crawl in here with me you will find out that hiding from the oven is the same as hiding in the oven. The oven is made to be used.

I sat spitting eggs for three more hours, then I turned off my computer and made myself a frittata in my kitchen. I waited for my mother to get home.


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Shoshana Lovett-Graff (she/her) is a white, Jewish queer writer originally from New Haven, Connecticut. Her work has been published in Pittsburgh Poetry Journal, The Flexible Persona (nominated for a Pushcart Prize), Atlas + Alice, Poetica, Blink-Ink, and more.